My New Years Resolution for 2015 was to do all of our grocery shopping at the East End Food Co-op. We’ve made it through January, and to my husband’s shock and joy, I did indeed stick to this resolution. There are times where there is an item or two that we need that the Co-op simply doesn’t have, so we’ve been picking things up from other local vendors such as the Butcher on Butler and the vendors at the Pittsburgh Public Market.
I’ve had to make some adjustments in how I shop in order to make my Co-op shopping a success, but honestly, it’s been far easier and less disruptive in my routine than I expected. I’ve learned:
1. Co-op food goes bad fast. I don’t know if it’s because the fruit isn’t waxed or treated or whatever, the shelf life on co-op produce is short. There’s been a bit of a learning curve, with me throwing out more produce than I’d like, but I’m getting into the swing of things. This means that when I get home, all the produce gets out of the produce bags immediately and into bowls on the counter. This also means that I have a specific plan for the produce I buy. Either it’s going in a recipe or going to be snacks/in packed lunches. I can’t just buy produce with the intent of figuring out what to do with it, because by the time I get around to thinking about it, it will have gone bad. But I’ve developed that habit now, and have gotten myself to buy one week’s worth of produce, which we do eat within that week (my habit at standard grocery stores was to buy TONS of produce, which would sometimes last as long as 2-3 weeks…that doesn’t work with co-op produce).
2. Because of #1, I definitely need to go grocery shopping every single week. I used to stretch out shopping to every 10-14 days, and I’d buy a lot more, but it could last a while longer. Now, I definitely have to make it there once a week, so that we have enough and fresh food.
3. BUT ON THE UPSIDE Shopping at the co-op is a lot faster. I can do a full-out shopping trip in about 45 minutes. Yes, the selection is far smaller than at a standard grocery store, but to be honest, by the time I get around to grocery shopping (which is usually a weeknight, when I’m tired already), I have decision fatigue. I don’t want to have to compare four different products. I just want to be like “I need frozen ravioli, oh look, here is the frozen ravioli” and put it in my cart. Also, I really like that the products at the co-op are focused on health and the business practices of the companies whose products they stock. I don’t have to sift through political issues and concerns about all kinds of preservatives and food additives that I don’t understand. Those kinds of products aren’t even stocked at the co-op, so I don’t have to worry about weeding them out.
4. I’ll be honest, the co-op is expensive (I’d say comparable to Whole Foods in price). The bulk dry products (rice, beans etc.) are actually very inexpensive, just much more time consuming to prepare. The rest of the stuff can be pretty pricey. I am planning on getting a farmshare again in the spring to bring our produce costs down. I do make far fewer impulse buys…although the impulse buys I do make tend to be a lot more expensive ($10 pint of Jeni’s ice cream and $10 block of gourmet cheese, please).
5. I’ve gotten into a pattern with our meals and shopping. It’s not full-on meal planning, but I do need to put a little thought into the shopping list ahead of time. each week I pick 2 or 3 recipes to make, and we have those for dinner throughout the week. For example, this week I made the Post Punk Kitchen’s Tamale Shepherd’s Pie, and it was fantastic. Even though we eat meat, I often use vegetarian or vegan recipes (sometimes adding in meat, dairy, eggs etc.), because their kinds of ingredients are always available at the co-op. Also, I was a vegetarian for a long time, am comfortable with veggie cooking, and do like preparing meals that are heavy on veggies, beans, etc. rather than the meat & potatoes approach.
We pack lunch for work, which is usually sandwiches or soup with fruit & veggies, so all of that is also easily purchased at the co-op. I also keep a couple boxes of frozen pizzas, frozen ravioli, and frozen vegetarian chicken nuggets on hand for the inevitable “got home way too late need to make something FAST” nights.
6. I do enjoy grocery shopping nights because I pick up something from the hot bar or prepared salads, which is healthy, tasty, and relieves me of having to cook on a night I’m already getting home late anyway. Their hot bar is pretty rockin. I got sweet potato gnocchi this week that were fan-tastic. Can’t wait til those are on the menu again!
I’ve liked this first month and feel like the goal I picked for 2015 is both manageable and worthwhile. I don’t even feel like it’s been much of a challenge so far. Although they don’t have the processed foods I would often buy at standard stores, I’m familiar with the kinds of products they do stock, and don’t have any sort of learning curve in terms of learning to cook with them. Also, the Jeni’s ice cream and gourmet cheese. I can never be sad with Jeni’s in my cart.